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Tony Blair on Globalization

Can Tony Blair push traditionally stoic Britain full-force into globalization?

October 5, 2005

Can Tony Blair push traditionally stoic Britain full-force into globalization?

Can the once center of one of the world’s most expansive empires be scared of globalization? In this Globalist Document, we present British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s aspirations for his country in the face of globalization. Rather than turning a blind eye to this omnipotent force, Blair urges his fellow countrymen to embrace globalization and to stake their own claim for United Kingdom.

In the late 20th century, the world had changed, the aspirations of the people had changed, we had to change. The world is on the move again — the change in the early 21st century even greater than that of the late 20th century.

The challenge we face is not in our values. It is how we put them into practice in a world fast forwarding to the future at unprecedented speed.

We believe in solidarity. We believe in social justice, in opportunity not for a privileged few, but for all — whatever their start in life. We believe in tolerance and respect, in strong communities standing by and standing up for the weak, the sick and the helpless.

Values don't change, but times do. And now, as before, our values have to be applied anew in changing times.

So what is the challenge? It is that change is marching on again. Perhaps our children more readily understand this and embrace it than we do. How quickly has the iPod entered the language and the reality of our lives? With what sense of near wonder was the fax machine greeted, just a few years ago, and already overtaken?

The pace of change can either overwhelm us or make our lives better and our country stronger. What we can’t do is pretend it is not happening.

I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalization. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer. They’re not debating it in China and India. They are seizing its possibilities in a way that will transform their lives and ours.

Yes, both nations still have millions living in poverty, but they are on the move. Look at Vietnam or Thailand. Then wait for the South Americans — and, in time, with our help, the Africans.

All these nations have labor costs a fraction of ours. All can import the technology. All of them will attract capital as it moves, trillions of dollars of it, double what was available even ten years ago, to find the best return.

The character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition — unforgiving of frailty. No respecter of past reputations. It has no custom and practice. It is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change.

Unless we “own” the future, unless our values are matched by a completely honest understanding of the reality now upon us and the next about to hit us, we will fail — and then the values we believe in become idle sentiments, ripe for disillusion and disappointment.

In the era of rapid globalization, there is no mystery about what works — an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive.

The new world rewards those who are open to it. Foreign investment improves our economy. Or take immigration — we know we need strict controls. They are being put in place, along with Identity Cards, also necessary in a changing world.

But one of the most satisfying things about the election was that the country saw through the Tories nasty, unprincipled campaign on immigration. People who come to work and make their lives here make Britain not weaker, but stronger. But there is a lesson here, too.

The temptation is to use government to try to protect ourselves against the onslaught of globalization by shutting it out, to think we protect a workforce by regulation, a company by government subsidy, an industry by tariffs. It doesn’t work today, because the dam holding back the global economy burst years ago.

The competition can’t be shut out — it can only be beaten. And the greatest error progressive politics can make is to think that somehow this more open and liberal world makes our values redundant, that the choice is either to cling onto the European social model of the past, or be helpless, swept along by the flow.

On the contrary, social solidarity remains the only way to secure the future of a country like Britain. However, today its purpose is not to resist the force of globalization, but to prepare for it and to garner its vast potential benefits.

That’s why education is government’s number one priority, why we are investing. Why we are doubling the science budget. Why we reformed universities funding so they had the resources to keep up with the world’s best.

And yes, it was tough. And yes, the Lib Dems exploited it with their usual ruthless opportunism. But it was the right thing to do. Because the only secure economic future for Britain lies in one thing.

Not low wages. Not old-fashioned conflict. But knowledge, skills, intelligence, the talents Britain has in abundance — if only we set them free.

Adapted from remarks given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the 2005 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, England on September 27, 2005. For the full-length speech, click here.